Living Will Basics
A living will is a legal document that specifies how we want to be medically treated when we are dying or injured to the point where we cannot make decisions for ourselves. States have different names for documents of this nature, but generally refer to them as advance directives. A living will should not be confused with a living trust, which is used for holding and distributing a person’s assets for privacy and to avoid probate. Georgia’s first living will law was passed in 1984.
The requirements for a living will vary by state and an attorney can help prepare your living will. Many lawyers will include a living will and a health care power of attorney in their package of estate planning documents.
How Does It Work?
Living wills and other advance directives are written, legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care if you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. Advance directives guide choices for doctors and caregivers if you’re terminally ill, seriously injured, in a coma/vegetative state, in the late stages of dementia or near the end of life.
By planning ahead, you can get the medical care you want, avoid unnecessary suffering and relieve caregivers of decision-making burdens during moments of crisis or grief. You also help reduce confusion or disagreement about the choices you would want people to make on your behalf. A living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated; until then you’ll be able to say what treatments you do or don’t want.
They usually require a certification by your doctor and another doctor that you are either suffering from a terminal illness or permanently unconscious before they become effective as well. This means that if you suffer a heart attack, for example, but do not have any terminal illness and are not permanently unconscious, a living will does not have any effect. You would still be resuscitated, even if you had a living will indicating that you don’t want life prolonging procedures. A living will is only used when your ultimate recovery is hopeless.
Advance directives aren’t just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it’s important for all adults to prepare these documents.
Power of Attorney
For situations where you are incapacitated and therefore not able to speak for yourself, but your health is not so dire that your living will becomes effective, you should have a medical or health care power of attorney or health care proxy. A medical or health care power of attorney is a type of advance directive in which you name a person to make decisions for you when you are unable to do so. In some states this directive may also be called a durable power of attorney for health care or a health care proxy.
The person you name may be a spouse, other family member, friend or member of a faith community. You may also choose one or more alternates in case the person you chose is unable to fulfill his or her role.
Choosing a person to act as your health care agent is important. Even if you have other legal documents regarding your care, not all situations can be anticipated and some situations will require someone to make a judgment about your likely care wishes.
Advise Your Family of Your Wishes
None of your estate planning documents will be of any benefit if no one knows about them. Once you’ve decided what it is you do or don’t want, make your wishes known to your doctor and your family. Most importantly, make sure that your family knows where your documents are kept or better yet, give them a copy.
For more information:
Contact the law offices of Lois Gerstenberger if you’d like more information specific to you in Douglas County, GA, Douglasville, or the State of Georgia.
What is a Living Will-by Rebecca Berlin
Remember, information found on the Gerstenberger Law site is for educational purposes only. Your situation and the situation of others is unique and more complex. This is neither legal advice nor to be considered legal advice. Contact us for advice about your specific situation.